Apple Criticised for Lack of Transparency: Environmental and Social Responsibility Rating Last of 29 MNCs

Top global electronics and consumer supplier Apple has come under severe criticism from a group of Chinese environmentalists who claim the company is being secretive about its pollution and social responsibility record. By Jeremy Torr.

Electronics workers in China often work long hours with very little holiday or spare timeShanghai, 22 Jan 2011.Giant electronics corporation Apple has been branded in a recent report as a serious environmental pollution offender. The report, by Chinese green organization called the Green Choice Initiative (GCI), claims Apple has been guilty of supporting polluting practices through its suppliers, and also of dodging questions about the results of that pollution – including poisoned workers.

The report, which looked at 29 international companies which subcontracted much of their manufacturing to Chinese factories and suppliers, ranked Apple in last place for its response to hard questions asked on environmental and worker issues.

The report claimed Apple had fallen down in three areas related to its sub-contracted supply-chain responsibilities. "On Apple's supply chain, some workers were poisoned and disabled,” it asserted, and “ . . neighbourhoods and communities were polluted while there was severe infringement of workers' rights, interest and dignity."

Apple has become one of the most successful companies on the planet with its attractive productsThe group, formed in 2007, aims to promote a new “Green Choice Initiative” for China’s vast consumer population. It is committed to encouraging individuals to consider a company’s environmental performance before they buy, and to exposing any practices that might colour the purchasing decision.

GCI claims many major brand name companies pollute illegally, and many parts of China currently face grave water pollution. High volumes of wastewater discharged by polluting enterprises play a major role in threatening public health and damaging scarce water resources.

China’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs has compiled a list of nearly 5,000 businesses in violation of pollution discharge standards. Most of these violators are small and medium-sized local firms, but the list also includes many large-scale industrial players and multinational corporations (MNCs).

The GCI report, published by the 36 Chinese environmental and labour groups that make up the organization, also accused Apple of "dodging" legitimate questions about its subcontractors’ unsavoury activities. One reported accident at an Apple-contracted Wintek factory saw 49 workers hospitalised after coming into contact with a toxic cleaning agent (n-hexane).

The report noted that Nokia and Motorola, who also used Wintek to provide product, responded to questions about the manufacturer – but Apple refused to give any details, citing supplier confidentiality.

"Behind their stylish image, Apple products have a side many do not know about – pollution and poison," the GCI report asserted. It claimed the company’s record was “hidden deep within a secretive supply chain," and showed a “lack of responsiveness eventually made us quite shocked," noted a spokesperson.

GCI claims some enterprises are in such breach of legal wastewater standards as to cause serious water supply stoppages. Yet, it claims, such guilty parties face no repercussions for their reprehensible actions and instead continue to enjoy high business success.

Toxic cleaning agent (n-hexane) has been linked to poor worker healthThe report also criticised several other major MNCs including Nokia, SingTel, and Sony, but praised others including HP, Vodafone, Samsung, and Hitachi for their response to GCI’s enquiries. Adding to Apple’s tarnished reputation, Greenpeace also pushed apple further back down its “toxic tech league”, while HP was pushed up the ratings.

The body states that: “The next time consumers are confronted with a choice, we hope they will be able to identify the goods from violating firms and make a Green Choice, thereby sending a clear market signal to companies.”

Sub-contractor Wintek has been linked to negative reports about Apple manufacturingIt says that all consumers can exert tangible market pressure, and ultimately force polluters to contemplate the damaging effect of illegal pollution on their brand reputation and market share.

“No one has the right to violate environmental laws and regulations– neither a small family-owned business nor a large multinational company. We have faith that Green Choice Initiative will help the public defend and protect its right to a healthy environment, once again restoring the country’s jade rivers and blue skies.”